Here in America we’re all familiar with the New Year’s Eve traditions of counting down the seconds till midnight, throwing confetti, toasting with champagne and kissing your loved ones. Of course, the biggest celebration happens at Times Square in New York City with the dropping of the giant Swarovsky crystal ball. Since 2011 is drawing to a close, I thought I’d ask my friends and family members about the New Years traditions from their homelands around the world. The first two I’ve taken part in myself, but I had to do some research to fill out this list. Some of these sound really fun!
1) In Spain and Portugal, when the clock strikes midnight, everyone eats twelve grapes—one for each toll of the bell. This is said to bring twelve months of prosperity in the coming year. When I did this in Madrid a couple of years ago I learned the hard way that it’s best to do this with seedless grapes or risk choking!
2) In Rio de Janeiro, Brazil during Réveillon, throngs of people fill Copacabana Beach, dressed all in white. It’s customary to wear colored underwear too; red signifies love and yellow signifies money. As part of the New Year’s tradition, people lay candles, flowers, and small trinkets in the sand as gifts to Iemenjá, the goddess of the ocean. Many put their offerings in little boats and set them adrift. Tradition has it if your offerings are taken out, you will be granted prosperity in the coming year; if the waves return them to you, you will not.
3) In Scotland they celebrate Hogmanay, the biggest holiday of the year. It’s also considered good luck to be the first person to visit a friend’s or relative’s house in a tradition called “first footing.” Visitors customarily bring a lump of coal (or peat) for the fire. Also, in the Scottish Highlands many people prepare for the New Year by burning juniper branches and carrying them throughout the house. The smoke is said to purify the home for the New Year.
4) In Puerto Rico, people roll a coconut around the house and then throw it into the ocean. And, at the stroke of midnight, children throw pails of water out the window. It’s also common to burn frankincense and myrrh inside the home as well. These acts are supposed to rid the home of evil spirits in preparation of the New Year.
5) In Greece, people bake a special New Year’s cake or bread called vasilopita in honor of St. Basil. Inside the cake is a silver or gold coin or a small charm. Whoever finds it will have good luck in the coming year.
6) In The Netherlands, the Dutch burn their Christmas trees in giant bonfires in the streets. This is done to drive away the bad spirits of the previous year. Also, at noon on New Year’s Day, thousands of people dive into the freezing cold North Sea for good luck.
7) Following the theme of burning things, in Hungary, people set fire to effigies of “Jack Straw” on New Year’s Eve. This represents the destruction of evil from the past year for them as well.
8) In Ecuador, Venezuela, and parts of Mexico, it’s common to carry a piece of luggage out of the house and walk around the neighborhood with it. This ensures that a vacation will happen in the New Year. (I want to do this one for sure!)
9) In Japan, they throw bonenkai or “forget-the-year parties” to bid farewell to the problems of the previous year and prepare for a new beginning. Then, at midnight, Buddhist temples strike their gongs 108 times. Also, it’s common for children to get small gifts with money called otoshidamas.
10) In Denmark, people throw dishes at the front doors of their friends’ homes. In fact, it’s customary to save up old dishes throughout the year for this occasion. The more dishes you break determines how many friends you will have and how good the coming year will be. Another popular custom in Denmark is to jump off a chair at midnight, thereby leaping into the new year.
So, what are your favorite New Year’s traditions? Have you done any of these? Please write them in the comments area below. I wish you all a very happy and prosperous 2012!